The National Weather Service said Puerto Rico hadn’t seen a storm as strong as Irma since Hurricane San Felipe. (Sept. 6, 2017)

As Hurricane Irma tears through the northern Caribbean Sea, long-term models suggest the storm could bring significant rainfall and damaging winds into the eastern United States early next week.

While meteorologists' immediate focus is on Irma's life-threatening winds and storm surge, they are also keeping an eye on long-term forecasting models that now suggest the storm will track up Florida's Atlantic coast, through the Carolinas and into the Ohio Valley.

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It's too early to predict precise impacts or timing, but odds that Irma turns out to sea without impacting the U.S. appear to be shrinking.

Hurricane and tropical storm tracker for Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Jose

The latest locations and forecasts for hurricanes and tropical storms to keep track of Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Jose.

The National Weather Service's Baltimore/Washington office cautioned that if Irma reaches the region, likely between Monday and Wednesday, it could bring flooding, damaging winds and possibly tornadoes.

"As I sometimes say, 'tropical storms are different beasts from regular low pressure areas,' meaning that these of course contain huge amounts of moisture and can produce prodigious amounts of rainfall," Andy Woodcock, a weather service meteorologist, wrote in a forecast discussion posted Wednesday. "We are still almost a week away from having to deal with this, but if this is how things play out expect a very active weather day Tuesday."

The weather service urged residents to prepare disaster plans and kits.

The latest National Hurricane Center forecast for Irma, released at 11 a.m. Wednesday, shows the storm making a turn toward the north this weekend, swiping Florida's Atlantic coast as a major storm with a trajectory reaching the Carolinas by early next week.

Irma forecast
Irma forecast (National Hurricane Center)
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